US lawmakers demand tech firms do more to fight political meddling

Facebook identified a new influence campaign tied to November's upcoming elections, removing 32 pages and fake accounts from its platforms in a bid to combat foreign meddling.
Facebook identified a new influence campaign tied to November's upcoming elections, removing 32 pages and fake accounts from its platforms in a bid to combat foreign meddling. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • US lawmakers have demanded that technology firms do more to fight "shocking" foreign efforts to influence US politics, a day after Facebook identified a new influence campaign tied to November's mid-term elections.

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday called executives of Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet's Google to testify on Sept 5 "to hear the plans they have in place, to press them to do more, and to work together to address this challenge", Senator Mark Warner, the panel's Democratic vice-chairman, said at a hearing.

"All the evidence this committee has seen to date suggests that the platform companies - namely Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google and YouTube - still have a lot of work to do," Mr Warner said.

Technology executives have travelled to Washington several times to testify in Congress over the past year, including 10 hours of questioning of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg over two days in April.

The committee has been looking into reported Russian efforts to influence US public opinion for more than a year, after US intelligence agencies concluded that entities backed by the Kremlin had sought to boost then Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's chances of winning the White House in 2016. Moscow denies involvement.

Facebook said on Tuesday it had removed 32 pages and fake accounts from its platforms in a bid to combat foreign meddling ahead of November's elections. It stopped short of identifying the source of misinformation. But congressmen said it was clear Russia was involved.

"While it is shocking to think that foreign actors used the social networking and communication mediums that are so central to our lives in an effort to interfere in the core of our democracy, what is even more troubling is that it's still happening today," said Senator Richard Burr, the panel's Republican chairman.

Allegations of Russian involvement in Mr Trump's 2016 victory have dogged his presidency. He has come under fire for discounting the threat of interference in November's polls, when the Republicans' majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate are at stake.

As senators gathered for the hearing, Mr Trump took to Twitter to urge Attorney-General Jeff Sessions to end a federal probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election, which he described as a "total hoax". Technology firms have been on the defensive for many months over political influence activity on their sites as well as concerns over user privacy.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2018, with the headline 'US lawmakers demand tech firms do more to fight political meddling'. Print Edition | Subscribe